Zimbabwe has an area of 390 757 square kilometres. It extends from latitudes 15o37 S to 22 o24 S and from longitudes 25 o14 E to 33 o 04E. It is landlocked, bordering Mozambique to the east, South Africa to the south, Botswana to the west and Zambia to the north (Figure 1). Altitude ranges between 197 m and 2592 m. About 80% of the land is higher than 600 m and less than 5% is above 1500 m, with the highest part in the Eastern Highlands. The Zambezi, Save and Limpopo are the major rivers. Harare is the capital city and is situated in the northern part of the country. Bulawayo, the second largest city, is found in the southern part of the country. Good rail and road networks connect major towns and cities. The population was estimated at 12,236,805 in July 2006, with a growth rate of 0.62% (World Factbook).
Figure 1 Map of Zimbabwe
In the late 1990s Zimbabwe had one of the most developed
industrial sectors in Africa. Agriculture was the most important economic
activity (Rukuni, 1994) with about 60% of industry being agro-based.
Furthermore, the agricultural sector consumed about 20% of total output
of industry (CFU, 2000).The agricultural sector employed a large proportion
of the countrys labour force and also contributed about 18%
of GDP and 40% of export earnings annually in a normal year (Rukuni,
1994).The major exports in the 1990s were are tobacco, cotton, sugar,
maize, tea, coffee, horticultural crops, fruits, vegetables and beef
(Table 1). The beef exports go mainly to the European Union and South
Table 1. Beef and hide exports (tonnes).
Source: Central Statistical Office with data 1997-2004* from FAOSTAT (2006).
About 70% of the population is dependent on farming for a livelihood. However, more than 80% of Zimbabwe is subject to conditions which make dry land cropping a risky undertaking because of low and erratic rainfall. Livestock and crop production are therefore important enterprises in most areas.The major ruminant species kept are cattle, goats and sheep. Cattle are the most important; donkeys, pigs and poultry are also kept. Natural grazing is the most important source of livestock feed. The number of domestic livestock fluctuates widely because of variations in annual rainfall (Table 2).
There are four major farming sectors in Zimbabwe (Table 3):large-scale commercial, small-scale commercial, communal and resettlement. Large-scale commercial farms, owned mainly by white farmers, have an average size of 2 200 ha, with about 55% being located in high potential areas.These farms are characterised by relatively high levels of investment. In contrast, small-scale commercial farms occupy the smallest land area with an average farm size of about 125 ha. Land is held under either free-hold or lease-hold title. The farms are leased from government.
Table 2. Numbers of livestock (thousand) in commercial, communal and resettlement farming sectors.
(Source: Central Statistical Office; Matowanyika, 1998).
Table 3. Major characteristics of the farming sectors and existing levels of investment.
The communal farming sector has the highest human population density. About 74% of communal farmland is on inherently infertile sandy soils in marginal areas characterised by low and erratic rainfall. Arable land holdings are generally less than 2.5 ha. There is considerable pressure on the land because of the increasing human population growth rate (3% per annum). The high pressure on land results in conversion of grazing land to arable, which in turn, leads to serious environmental problems like deforestation and soil erosion. When Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980, one of the primary aims of the new government was to relieve pressure on communal lands by resettling people on formerly white-owned large-scale commercial farms. Farms were acquired on a willing-seller willing buyer basis. As of 2000, more than 51,410 families have been resettled on 3,790,000 ha. Tenants are given permits to settle, cultivate land and keep livestock. Land is held under lease-hold title. There are serious problems relating to land ownership in Zimbabwe. Landless people from communal areas are currently "invading" white-owned large-scale commercial farms and the land ownership issue has a very high profile with ongoing legal battles.
Major topographic features
The country can be divided into six general physical regions (Figure 1). Anderson et al., 1993 described these regions as follows:
Geology and soils
Soils are closely related to the underlying rocks. Nyamapfene (1991) gives a detailed description of the soils of Zimbabwe. Diverse geological materials occur in the country. Igneous and metamorphosed igneous rocks occupy 65% and materials of aeolian (e.g. Kalahari sands) and sedimentary origin (e.g. Karoo sandstones) 25% of the area. Granites are the dominant (46%) igneous rocks. The granites give rise to infertile light textured sandy soils. Relatively small inclusions of other rocks referred to as the gold belt formations (complexes of metamorphosed basaltic and andesitic lavas and sediments) are important sources of minerals and also give rise to agriculturally important heavy textured red soils. A unique feature of Zimbabwes geology is the 540-km long Great Dyke that stretches in a nearly straight line from the northern Highveld region near the Zambezi escarpment southwards into the Southeast Lowveld region. It is composed of mafic and ultramafic rocks that give rise to soils that are characterised by the dominance of magnesium and toxic levels of heavy minerals such as chrome and nickel that are associated with characteristic flora such as Andropogon gayanus and Diplorhynchus condylocarpon (Nyamapfene, 1991).
Zimbabwe lies entirely within the tropics but much of the Highveld and Eastern Highlands have a subtropical to temperate climate due to the modifying effect of altitude. Three seasons are recognised in Zimbabwe. These are: (1) a hot wet season from mid- November to March (summer); (2) a cold dry season from April to July (winter), and a hot dry season from August to mid-November (spring).
Air temperatures are closely related to altitude with mean annual temperature ranging from about 25oC in parts of the Zambezi Valley to less than 15oC above 1800 m in the Eastern Highlands. Maximum temperatures are lowest in June or July and highest in October. During winter, mean daily temperature ranges between 11 and 20oC. Mean maximum daily temperatures can exceed 32oC during spring.
Frost may occur in most areas between May and September, with the highest incidence in June and July. It occurs more frequently and more severely at mid and high altitudes. Severe frosts are associated with an influx of cold dry southwesterly air that mostly affects the Kalahari Sandveld and southern Highveld regions. Local topography, however, is the main determinant of frost risk with valleys, vleis and other sites which receive and retain cold night air being especially susceptible. The Mid Zambezi Valley is probably the only frost-free region.
Rainfall varies widely both temporally and spatially.The reliability of rainfall increases with altitude and from south to north. Coefficients of variability range from >40% in areas south of Bulawayo to <20% in some parts of the Highveld and Eastern Highlands. About 90% of the total rainfall in Zimbabwe is associated with thunderstorm activity producing falls of short duration and high intensity. Periods of drizzle and light rain ("guti") are only significant in the southeast of the central watershed, but total amounts contributed by this type of rainfall are small.Local variation in the regional rainfall pattern caused by orographic effects occurs in several areas.
Vincent and Thomas (1960) divided Zimbabwe into five main natural regions according to differences in effective rainfall (Figure 2; Table 4).
Figure 2 Map of agro-climatic zones and farming regions
Table. 4. Agro-ecological zones of Zimbabwe
and the recommended
Annual rainfall is highest in Natural region I which covers approximately 2% of the land area. It is a specialised and diversified farming region with plantation forestry, fruit and intensive livestock production.Tea, coffee and macadamia nuts are grown in frost-free areas. Natural region II covering 15% of the land area, receives lower rainfall than region I, nevertheless is suitable for intensive farming based on crops or livestock production.
Natural region III is a semi-intensive farming region covering 19% of Zimbabwe. Although rainfall in this region is moderate in total amount, severe mid season dry spells make it marginal for maize, tobacco and cotton, or for enterprises based on crop production alone. The farming systems are therefore based on both livestock (assisted by the production of fodder crops) and cash crops.
Natural region IV is a semi-extensive farming region covering about 38% of Zimbabwe. Rainfall is low and periodic seasonal droughts and severe dry spells during the rainy season are common. Crop production is therefore risky except in certain very favourable localities, where limited drought resistant crops are grown as a sideline.The farming is based on livestock and drought resistant fodder crops.
Natural region V is an extensive farming region covering about 27% of Zimbabwe. Rainfall in this region is too low and erratic for the reliable production of even drought resistant fodder and grain crops, and farming is based on grazing natural pasture. Extensive cattle or game ranching is the only sound farming system for this region.
Both large-scale commercial and smallholder ruminant livestock production are practised in Zimbabwe. Beef and dairy cattle production are the important commercial enterprises while in the smallholder sector farmers keep beef, dairy and small ruminants (sheep and goats) under a mixed farming system.
Beef and dairy production are important in the large-scale commercial sector (Table 5). Beef and milk are consumed locally and also exported. Exports of beef to the EU and South Africa generate foreign exchange.
European breeds (Bos taurus), indigenous breeds (Bos indicus) and crosses are used for beef production. Systems range from extensive systems (ranching), which require large areas of land, to intensive systems, which require relatively smaller areas of land. Generally, extensive systems are practised in Natural regions IV and V where rainfall is too low and erratic for crops. In contrast, intensive systems of production such as pen-fattening of slaughter stock are practised in high rainfall areas (Natural regions II and III) where herbage production is higher and less variable and farmers can grow high-energy feeds like maize.
Natural grazing is the primary source of feed for beef animals, but cereal crop residues and planted pastures may assume this role for short periods in medium and high rainfall areas (Natural regions I and II). Animals are usually grazed at conservative (light) stocking rates on rangeland in fenced paddocks. Rotational grazing systems are used with five to eight paddocks per herd.
The quantity and quality of herbage varies spatially and temporally (Weinman, 1948; Elliot and Folkertsen, 1961). Rainfall is a major determinant of grass production (Dye and Spear, 1982). There is a linear relation between grass production and annual rainfall in areas receiving less than 900 mm. It is difficult for producers to match animal numbers with available herbage. Farmers therefore use conservative stocking rates in order to prevent overgrazing. This strategy, however, results in under-utilisation of herbage in years of above-average rainfall.
Beef cattle are fed supplements because of seasonal changes in the feeding value of grazing: this involves the use of protein supplements during the dry season, phosphorus in the wet season and occasionally energy supplements in spring and early summer (Sibanda, 1998).
Some farmers also reinforce rangeland with legumes in order to improve the quality of grazing. Several herbaceous and browse legumes are used (these are described below).
A key player in the Zimbabwean beef industry is the Cold Storage Company (CSC) that supplies breeding stock to both commercial and smallholder farmers, and beef to the domestic market during periods when there are reduced supplies. CSC is a former parastatal organisation that was privatised recently; has ranches and feedlots in different parts of the country and practices both extensive and intensive beef production. Its mandate is to support national beef production and marketing. It supports national beef production by buying animals from farmers in drought-stricken areas. These are kept on ranches during drought years and then either sold or loaned to farmers for restocking after drought. The supply of slaughter stock in Zimbabwe is seasonal. Few farmers supply animals for slaughter in the dry season and early-growing season. Thus, CSC maintains the supply of beef to both the domestic and export markets by slaughtering animals that are fattened on high-energy diets in pens during these seasons.
Commercial beef production has declined drastically since 1992 (Table 5). This has been attributed to an unfavourable macro-economic environment that is characterised by high inflation and interest rates. Farmers are increasingly unable to borrow money to purchase breeding stock, especially after drought. Some farmers are therefore switching away from beef production to more profitable enterprises such as wildlife farming.
Dairying is an important industry that supplies milk to the domestic market (Table 6). It is a specialised enterprise requiring proper feeding of the cow and handling of the milk. To produce milk, a cow should be fed a balanced diet. Feeding systems are generally based on maize and its by-products for energy, and cotton and soybean-oil cakes for protein (Pascoe, 1987). Natural grazing, veld hay, maize silage and where irrigation is available, oats, Midmar rye grass, lucerne and planted pastures are important sources of roughage.
Table 6. Number of dairy animals and producers, and the amount of milk delivered (million litres) to Dairiboard Zimbabwe (Ltd).
Feeding systems vary depending on climate and hence the farmers ability to grow feeds economically. In marginal rainfall areas (Natural regions III and IV) most farmers purchase concentrates and use rangeland in summer months to provide roughage. Maize silage and veld hay provide roughage during winter months. In contrast, farmers in high potential areas (Natural regions I and II) grow maize for roughage (silage) and energy (grain). Thus, farmers in high potential regions normally only purchase high concentrate protein mixes. Although many farmers graze animals in summer, there is an increasing trend towards zero grazing with maize silage forming the bulk of the roughage intake (Pascoe, 1987). Where irrigation is available, most farmers produce green feed for use in winter. Popular forages are oats, Midmar rye grass and grass pastures.
The high costs of purchased feeds are affecting the viability of many dairy enterprises adversely. Farmers are increasingly producing feeds on-farm in order to reduce costs. Production of high quality forages is being researched at various government-funded research institutes. The major aim is to investigate cheaper systems for milk production from dryland grass and grass/legume pastures.
The commonest dairy breeds are Friesland-Holstein, Jersey, Guernsey, Ayrshire and Red Dane. Natural service and artificial insemination using imported semen of proven sires are regularly used in breeding programmes.
Beef cattle and small ruminants
Cattle are the most important livestock in the smallholder sector where they are kept for multiple purposes; they provide draught power, manure, milk, cash and meat. Beef production is ranked lower than provision of draught power in terms of the value of cattle. There is therefore a strong relation between crop and cattle production in the smallholder sector (Table 7). Crop production increases as herd size increases. Farmers who own cattle till their lands timeously leading to higher crop yields. Moreover, cattle manure is used as an organic fertiliser which improves soil structure and fertility thereby reducing the amounts of inorganic fertilisers that have to be purchased. Cattle owners therefore obtain higher crop yields and incomes than non-cattle owners and greater food security is associated with cattle ownership.
Table 7. Relation between size of the cattle herd and maize production in the communal sector.
Offtake of cattle from the smallholder sector is generally low (less than 7%) (Rukuni, 1994). Farmers tend to sell old (9-10 years) and unproductive animals. The low offtake is attributed to cattle being kept for multiple purposes. Furthermore, farmers have small herds (4-5 head per household). About 40% of households in the smallholder sector have no cattle and depend on cattle owners for draught power. Farmers therefore aim at purchasing and building herds leading to reduced offtake.
Unlike cattle, small ruminants are primarily kept for meat, cash sales and manure. Small ruminants complement cattle in providing households needs (Rukuni, 1994). Table 8 shows flock sizes and ownership patterns of small ruminants in communal areas. Ownership of goats and flock size increase with aridity. This is attributed to the goats ability to survive in harsh environments. In contrast, ownership of sheep and flock size are similar across the five agro-ecological regions of the country.
Cattle and small ruminants graze natural pasture during summer and in winter they feed on crops residues, waterways, fallow land and uncultivated areas within arable lands. Cattle are grazed at high stocking rates (1 LU: 1 ha) on communal grazing land and numbers and productivity fluctuate with annual rainfall leading to boom and bust production cycles (Campbell et al., 2000). Thus, cattle numbers increase during years with above-average rainfall whereas numbers decline dramatically in drought years. For example, during the 1991/1992 drought, up to 90% of cattle died in some areas. Farmers keep indigenous breeds such as the Mashona, Tuli and Nkone that have been shown to have high fertility (calving percentage exceeds 85% under adequate feeding and disease control). Animals are neither fed protein supplements during the dry season nor dosed and vaccinated against diseases.
Dairy production in the smallholder sector is a post-independence (1980) phenomenon. The Agricultural and Rural Development Authority (ARDA), a parastatal organisation, has been at the forefront in promoting milk production in the smallholder sector. Several smallholder dairy schemes are now operational in different parts of the country. These schemes are now delivering milk to the market (Table 9). The Dairy Development Programme (DDP) of ARDA has a mandate to promote dairy development. It provides farmers with financial and technical assistance to set up dairy enterprises. Milk is produced from crossbred cows.
Table 9. Size of the dairy herd, milk production and sales (litres) in the smallholder sector.
Dairy animals are grazed and also fed home-grown feeds and commercial concentrates. Several problems have been experienced in the smallholder sector leading to reduced milk production and sales. The major constraints are (ARDA-DDP Annual Report, 1998/99):
Despite these problems concerted efforts are being made to improve smallholder dairy production. There is greater emphasis on training farmers to feed and manage dairy animals.
Livestock numbers and production statistics in the period of 1996-2005
There have been considerable changes in Zimbabwe since this profile was first drafted. As separate data for the commercial and smallholder sectors are not available Table 10 contains statistics for livestock numbers, meat and milk production and some import and export data (from FAOSTAT) for the period 1995-2004 for the whole of Zimbabwe. There appears to have been little change in livestock numbers since 2000 and meat and milk production has stagnated or declined (apart from pig and poultry meat production). Beef and veal exports have declined and since 2001 there has been a negative trade balance in dairy products. In 2000 there was a balance of US$ 6M in dairy exports over imports but by July 2003 there was a (negative) balance of minus US$ 3M.
Table 10. Zimbabwe statistics for livestock numbers,
meat and milk production,
Natural grazing (rangeland)
Natural grazing is the cheapest and most important source of livestock feed in Zimbabwe. It has been divided into sourveld, sweetveld and mixedveld based on animal body weight changes in the dry season. Sourveld describes grazing where animals gain weight during the growing season but lose weight during the dry season because of the poor quality of herbage (crude protein content less than 30 g kg-1). It is found in the highveld region that receives more than 800 mm annual rainfall at altitudes above 1200 m. Sweetveld refers to grazing where animals gain weight during the growing season and in winter, and are able to at least maintain their body weight. Sweetveld is in low-lying (< 900 m) semi-arid areas that receive low rainfall (<600 mm). The ability of domestic herbivores to maintain weight is partly attributed to the availability of palatable browse which tends to be high in protein. The middleveld is intermediate between these two extremes and is usually in areas of intermediate altitude and rainfall.
Herbage production is highly variable spatially and temporally; major factors influencing it are annual rainfall, shading by woody plants and soil type. There is a linear relation between grass production and annual rainfall (up to about 900 mm) (Dye and Spear, 1982). For each millimetre of rain, 2 kg dry matter of grass ha-1 year-1 are produced in areas cleared of woody plants on clayey soils, while 1 kg DM ha-1 year-1 is produced in cleared areas on sandy soils (Dye and Spear, 1982). There is a negative exponential relation between woody plant cover and grass production (Frost, 1996).
The quality of herbage varies seasonally. The crude fibre content increases with plant maturity and is therefore highest at the end of the growing season. In contrast, the crude protein content of grasses is highest during the early growing season (November /December) and lowest during the dry season (Tables 11, 12). Ruminants lose body weight during the dry season in areas where the crude protein content of herbage is less than 60 g kg-1. In the large-scale commercial sector, animals are commonly fed protein supplements during the dry season to prevent weight loss.
Table 11. Seasonal changes in dry matter (DM),
crude protein (CP), crude fibre (CF),
Table 12. Seasonal changes in dry matter (DM),
crude protein (CP), crude fibre (CF), ash and
There are eight major grass vegetation types in Zimbabwe (Rattray, 1957). They are described in terms of the dominant grass species (Figure 3). The grass vegetation types vary in grazing capacity. Generally, grazing capacity is highest in areas of high rainfall and lowest in those of low rainfall.
There are several other less extensive grassland types that are interspersed within the major types. Examples are Setaria veld, serpentine veld and sodic veld. Setaria veld is a sour to mixed veld type found on vertisols in higher rainfall (> 400 mm) areas in tree savanna or open grasslands situations. Common grasses are Setaria porphyrantha, S. sphacelata, Dichanthium papillosum and Ischaemum afrum. These grasses are associated with Acacia species. It has a grazing capacity of 1 LU: 3-4 ha. Serpentine veld is a sour to mixed veld on the Great Dyke. Characteristic species are Andropogon gayanus, A. schirensis, Themeda triandra, Bewsia biflora, Aristida spp. and Loudetia species. It has a grazing capacity of 1 LU: 5 ha. Sodic veld is a sweetveld in tree bush or bush clump savanna on sodic soils often near granite drainage lines. Common grasses are Sporobolus ioclodes, Chloris virgata and Dactyloctenium aegyptium. Associated woody species are Colophospermum mopane, Acacia gerrardii and A. mellifera. It has a grazing capacity of 1 LU: 14-20 ha.
Reinforced (improved) rangeland
The only feasible means by which range productivity can be raised above natural levels is by reinforcement with legumes (Clatworthy, 1998). Several legumes can be used for reinforcing rangeland (Robinson and Clatworthy, 1980; Maclaurin and Wood,1987) (Table 13). In Zimbabwe, rangeland reinforcement has consisted mainly of planting rows of improved herbaceous forages, usually legumes, into the topland veld, and grasses into vleis. It has generally been more successful in the higher rainfall areas and on the more fertile soils.
Table 13. Legumes and grasses commonly used for reinforcing rangeland in Zimbabwe.
In high rainfall areas integrating crops and livestock through use of pastures can lead to greater and more stable farm production (Clatworthy, 1998). Planted or sown pastures range from unfertilised grass fallows to heavily fertilised irrigated pastures. Examples of plants that could be used in planted pastures are given in Tables 14-16.
Table 14. Legumes and grasses commonly used for temporary dry land pastures (leys)
Table 15. Grasses1 commonly used for permanent dryland pastures
1Including Panicum repens, Acroceras macrum (see Table 13).
Table 16. Grasses and legumes commonly used for irrigated pastures
1Including Pennisetum clandestinum, Cynodon species (see Table 15).
The major problems of pasture plants are the availability of seed and poor persistence of some species under heavy grazing. Pasture seeds are generally expensive. Furthermore, most legumes require inoculation with Rhizobia and application of phosphatic fertiliser at establishment. Inorganic fertilisers are generally expensive for smallholder farmers.
There are three main ways in which pasture resources could be improved. First, where natural pasture is the major feed, a conservative stocking rate strategy could be adopted (Gammon, 1978). This would reduce overgrazing and ensure adequate feed in drought years. The farmer would need to assess the condition of the pasture annually and make necessary adjustments to stocking rates. This is a form of adaptive management that requires the farmer to keep detailed records on rainfall, animal performance (calving rates, weaning weights, growth rates), vegetation (pasture composition, basal cover, density of palatable species) and soil (erosion, compaction, termite activity). The major problem with a conservative stocking strategy is that there is under-utilisation of herbage in years of above average rainfall; it is difficult to apply where land is grazed communally.
Second, range can be reinforced with herbaceous and browse legumes. Legumes have been shown to improve soil fertility and reduce weight loss of grazing animals during the dry season. Establishing legumes in grazing areas could therefore reduce the costs of protein supplementation thereby increasing economic returns. However, the major problems with range reinforcement with legumes are (1) high initial fertiliser costs (phosphate is required by most legumes), (2) poor establishment of legumes especially during drought years, and (3) poor persistence of herbaceous legumes. More research is needed on legumes for overseeding and for use in sown pastures.
Third, fodder banks could be developed to feed animals during drought. Fodder could also be used to feed selected classes of stock such as lactating cows and draught animals. The last two strategies depend on the availability of seed of forage plants. It may therefore be necessary to increase seed production.
There are several key institutions in Zimbabwe which carry out research and promote the development of forages. These include government, parastatal and private organisations. The departments of Research and Specialist Services (DR&SS) and Agricultural, Technical and Extension Services (Agritex) under the Ministry of Lands and Agriculture, are the two most important government departments. DR&SS has a mandate to conduct research on sustainable livestock production from rangeland and pastures while Agritex provides technical advice on livestock and crop production to farmers. The contact person in DR&SS is Dr P. Nyathi. His address is: Department of Research and Specialist Services, P.O. Box CY 594, Causeway, Harare.
Universities in Zimbabwe also conduct research on rangeland management, animal production and nutrition. Contacts at the University of Zimbabwe are:
The profile was prepared by James Gambiza and Cynthia Nyama in October/November, 2000.
Address: Department of Biological Sciences, University of Zimbabwe. PO Box MP 167, Mount Pleasant, Harare. E-mail: Gambiza@trep.co.zw.
J. Gambiza is a lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, Department of Biological Sciences. He has several years of experience on rangeland research and management in Zimbabwe. He will be responsible for updating this profile.
Address: Grasslands Research Station, P.B. 3701, Marondera, Zimbabwe.
Ms Cynthia Nyama is a Senior Research Technician at Grasslands Research Station. She has over 13 years of experience on rangeland research and animal production.
[The profile was edited by J.M. Suttie and S.G. Reynolds in November/December 2005 and livestock data modified in August 2006. No changes have been made to the profile to reflect developments in Zimbabwe since late 2000]